Iraki: So, why did Russia invade Ukraine?

Azovstal Iron and Steel Works plant in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine. [Reuters]

In the last two months, I have tried to find out why Russia attacked Ukraine.

Beyond the projection of power by its leader, President Vladimir Putin, I have not found any other reason.

At the start of the war, also called ‘special military operation’, we thought taking Kyiv was the ultimate objective of the Russians. But now Kyiv has been abandoned, with Russians concentrating on the Donbas region, to everyone’s surprise.

Sources told me that Kyiv is too central to Russia culturally and spiritually to be destroyed.

Its cathedrals and monuments are jewels and sacred. More so as the origin of Russia. Why then did Russia try to take it? Was it a strategic distraction as Russia focused on the south in Mariupol, other southern cities and the Black Sea region?

It’s possible that beyond the “sacredness“ of Kyiv, Russians could have bitten off more than they could chew in opening two fronts. They might have realised that Kyiv was too defended to fall. Perhaps the fall of Kyiv could have led to insurrection against Russians in Ukraine, more like Afghanistan.

Russia now has focused on southern Ukraine by the Black Sea, much loved by Tsars and Soviet presidents.

We could still ask, what is the Russian objective in this war? Why attack your neighbour who speaks a similar language, has the same culture and history? Can you imagine the US attacking Canada?

Why attack Ukraine when the world reaction was so predictable? When Russia’s market for oil and gas would be threatened? Image is not a big issue for Russia, it seems.

One reason could be for President Putin to shore up support at home. But his rule is not under any threat, the much we know.

Wars generally lead to a rise in popularity of the leaders, if they win. They can be a convenient distraction from the realities of life such as falling standards of living. That does not seem to be the reality in Russia.

War can also be used to shore up the confidence of a leader who feels belittled. Bullies are often cowards. Does that reflect the Russian leadership? But who is belittling Russia? The West? Is that a perception or reality?

It’s also possible that Ukraine’s economic growth and self-confidence were a threat to Russia. Add the spectre of joining the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Russia would have got a competitor on its doorstep. Would Russia not be happier to have a better and bigger trading partner?

Soviet republics

Is Russia that weak to fear Ukraine? We can only suggest that Russia feared the domino effect, if Ukraine falls to the western orbit other former Soviet republics would do the same.

This is not farfetched. The US fought in Vietnam for the same reason. It was feared that if Vietnam fell to communists, more countries in south-east Asia would do the same.

I wish I spoke Russian and listened to their TV and radio, that could give me better insight into why they are attacking a neighbour who long gave up nuclear weapons.

Russia could just be after a land grab; I see no other reason. She will take the towns and the land by the Black Sea just as she did with Crimea and expand Russia. This region and the east are the industrial heartlands of Ukraine. They will not offer competition to Russia anymore. Will Russia industrialise them again? Images seem to show a wasteland, more like that depicted by Poet TS Elliot.

Could Russia be bored, looking for adventure and something to keep the country busy? The outbreak of the First World War was like that, people just wanted something to excite them. Noted how the whole world is focused on Ukraine, with Covid-19 behind us?

Does Russia, by invading Ukraine, want to show the West can’t do anything? They did nothing about Crimea and abandoned Afghanistan too. Is Russia showing that Pax Americana is over? The most plausible reason is that Russia wants to roll back the Russian empire with its tsars.

By portraying himself as the “tsar reincarnate” with the support of the Orthodox Church, Putin is building a case for war in Ukraine.

Its spiritual dimension makes the war more justifiable. But empire building has been rare in the 21st century. By the middle of the last century, great empires like the British had unravelled. Why try again?

What next for beloved Ukraine? How long will she cry?

Russia seems determined to get what she wants. The appointment of a general who shored Bashir Assad in Syria, Aleksandr Dvornikov (nicknamed the butcher of Syria) and the use of mercenaries are key indicators of her determination. It seems the map of Eurasia will be redrawn. Russia will expand to the west to include Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

We shall keep quiet and wait for another crisis just we kept quiet after Crimea was annexed.

To legalise the seizure of new land in eastern Ukraine, a referendum will be organised and the “new republics” will join Russia or be “free” with appendages to Russia. The flowering of freedom in the old Soviet Union will slow down. A new world policeman, read Russia, will rise. But her jurisdiction will be limited.

She could be deputised by other countries that silently support the end of Pax Americana. The American lonely superpower status could be finally challenged. We could return to a multipolar world, harder to manage and possibly less peaceful. By that time lots of tears will have watered Ukraine.

Direct punishment

What will happen to the five million refugees? Is that a direct punishment to the West for supporting Ukraine? It’s costly to host and settle such a high number of people. Will they be resettled?

Will there be a labour shortage in Ukraine? Is higher fuel and food price another Russian punishment for us? Is Russia showing how indispensable she is?

But there could be a surprise. Who thought Russia could withdraw from Kyiv? Russia could withdraw from this region and make peace and be a “good boy” while keeping the conquered territories. They could even help in rebuilding Ukraine.

The fear of escalation with Russia testing a new nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile has kept the war going, intervening hard. Will the war wear itself out as Russians get tired, like Americans in Vietnam or the same Russians in Afghanistan? Let us watch and wait, but this is not a movie.